Welcome to the - ̗̀NEW ̖́- mechachoi.com

Welcome! First big redesign in four years. What’s different?

1. New logo: It’s a new and improved Marcie! Now complete with gears sticking out of her head.

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2. Less portfolio, more blog: The old website was primarily made to showcase a portfolio for when I was applying to jobs. However, I’ve decided that I want a centralized hub that chronicles my creative endeavors and process, separate from the noise of Twitter / Youtube.

ye olde mechachoi

ye olde mechachoi

Now you’ll see that the landing page is a blog, rather than a photostack of my projects (most of which are pretty old now). The blog is pretty sparse right now, with a few blogs that I ported over from the old mechablog.

I want to keep my blogs short and simple (with the exception of that Game Boy Advance build-log, whew). I want the blog to serve as a chronological record of my projects and creative process in general. This means build logs and hopefully lots of cool pictures.

2. Work: The second page of the new site will have a section that is more like ye olde mechachoi.com, with a photo stack that have clickthrough descriptions of my projects. There’s still a lot of old stuff in there, but I have at least 6 new projects lined up for 2019 that should help breathe some new life into that page!

3. About: Writing bios is hard.

So thanks for visiting! Stay tuned to this space for more updates on the projects I’m working on this year.

Mike Choi
- ̗̀new ̖́- Nintendo Switch DS

What do you do when you have a bunch of leftover prototype shots from tooling approval for Flip Grip, a couple spare hinges, a Joy-Con Rail, two Nintendo Switches and an extra copy of Breath of the Wild?

Bingo! Make a fake, mediocre-ly convincing at best “prototype” of an impractically large dual screen Nintendo Switch system!

Like all good project ideas, I came up with this idea during a bout of sleep-deprived delirium. Unlike pretty much all of my other projects, this one is definitely fake, but certainly looked real enough to fool more than a few Twitter peeps!

YES, this project is pointless… but once I came up with the concept, I couldn’t get the dumb/cool image of two big ‘ol Switches on top of each other out of my head.

And of course, it only took about 15 minutes of hacking together all the ingredients to make it a reality, so why not?

How did I build it?

It’s two prototype Flip Grips, some friction hinges from McMaster (I needed two— those Switches are heavy!), a spare Joy-Con rail I used for Nintendo Switch testing, all smacked together using some screws.

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I faked (poorly) the dual screen effect by running two instances of Breath of the Wild. I synced the times up using fireplaces. It was surprisingly difficult to sync up the weather conditions; it rains a damn lot in that game. 🌧️

Mike Choi
32:9 Switch Adapter

Made this on a dare from @markmacd and @gamespite. It’s mostly useless, but was prompted by a discussion around a Darius port for Switch.

Made using two pieces of high-impact polytyrene, a few screws, and a third plastic piece of acrylic.

Mike Choi
Recreating the Spaceworld 2000 GBA
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This summer, I decided to pursue the mod of my dreams, repurposing and rebuilding a forgotten legacy handheld to give it a bright future. I learned several lessons along the way, about resin casting, silicone molds, painting, as well as persistence, patience, and polish.

A Brief History of the Game Boy Advance

The Nintendo Space World 2000 prototype Game Boy Advance in an unreleased orange and silver colorway.

The Nintendo Space World 2000 prototype Game Boy Advance in an unreleased orange and silver colorway.

At the dawn of the new millennium, Nintendo released Game Boy Advance (GBA), a 32-bit cartridge-based handheld gaming console capable of displaying a whopping 32,768 colors on a 240-by-160 LCD. The first reveal of the Game Boy Advance was at Nintendo Space World 2000 (Nintendo’s video game trade show), where Nintendo displayed a prototype of the handheld console donning a mind-meltingly gorgeous silver and orange colorway. Sadly, this colorway never saw an official release, disappointing dozens of silver and orange enthusiasts.

The original GBA contained an unlit, transflective screen that was almost unplayable in low-light.

The original GBA contained an unlit, transflective screen that was almost unplayable in low-light.

Unfortunately, the original GBA was cursed with the unlit transflective screen of its ancestors, making it practically unusable unless in direct sunlight.

The Game Boy Advance SP was the GBA’s upgraded, screen-lit clamshell brother.

The Game Boy Advance SP was the GBA’s upgraded, screen-lit clamshell brother.

To address this issue, Nintendo released the Game Boy Advance SP, a GBA with a rectangular clamshell design and front-lit screen. The front-lit screen, although a decent solution for gaming in the dark, significantly diminished screen contrast. Nintendo eventually released the AGS-101 hardware revision to the GBA SP, with a back-lit screen that used an LED panel behind the LCD to greatly increase contrast when compared to the front-lit model.

The AGS-101 GBA SP model (Left) sports a back-lit LCD that greatly improves contrast over the original AGS-001 (Right). (Source: imgur user    dada78641   )

The AGS-101 GBA SP model (Left) sports a back-lit LCD that greatly improves contrast over the original AGS-001 (Right). (Source: imgur user dada78641)

The AGS-101 is the golden child of the Game Boy Advance pedigree, and it is generally regarded as the ideal medium for playing Game Boy games for its vibrant back-lit LCD. However, many prefer the original GBA’s more comfortable oval form factor, despite its unlit screen, when compared to the relatively narrow GBA SP.

In layman’s terms, the perfect GBA– complete with an round form factor and high-contrast back-lit LCD– can’t be bought, only built. (…Well, you can buy modified original GBAs with back-lit screens on eBay, but where’s the fun in that?) In any case, the perfect GBA must be built, forged from the remnants of an original GBA and a GBA SP AGS-101, bred for the best traits of each. Today, I embark on a quest to create the perfect GBA as described above, but with a unique twist: I’ll attempt to recapture the magic of the original silver-and-orange prototype from Space World 2000.

Along the way, I’ll explore the challenges that come with meticulously rebuilding this legendary handheld with aftermarket parts and rattle can paint.

The proud parents of our newborn Game Boy, a pink GBA SP AGS-101 and glacier original GBA.

The proud parents of our newborn Game Boy, a pink GBA SP AGS-101 and glacier original GBA.

The Shell

To begin, I’ll need to paint the shell silver.

But Mike, there already exists a silver GBA shell! Remember the Platinum edition that was released in November of 2002? Why don’t you just buy that instead?

Yes, I do remember the Platinum edition GBA– a mighty fine colorway indeed. However, this colorway is hard to come by– and aftermarket shell manufacturers don’t make shells in silver. So I’ll take the painting route instead. The original GBA shell is dented to hell, so I’ll use aftermarket shells purchased from eBay. The molding on them isn’t perfect; there is some waviness near the corners. Nintendo’s quality control is known for being top-notch, so any aftermarket parts won’t be up to the “Nintendo Seal of Quality” standard. I’ll need to carve out some ribs in the shell to make room for the larger LCD containing the back-light. (Credits to Rose Colored Gaming)   

Prepping for the Paint

When it comes to prepping these shells (and any part you want to paint), the name of the game is adhesion. Adhesion means two things: cleanliness, and primer. I wash the parts very thoroughly with soap and water, and wipe them with some isopropyl alcohol to remove any grease or mold release, wearing gloves to prevent getting finger oils on the part.

Applying Tamiya fine surface primer to our GBA parts.

Applying Tamiya fine surface primer to our GBA parts.

I apply a thin coat of Tamiya’s white fine surface primer. Grey primer also works, but will cause the final colors to come out slightly darker. After a 24-hour dust-free wait period, I’m ready to begin applying color coats.

Pro tip:

In case dust particles do happen to fall on the part, I wait until the primer is dry, and use a clean microfiber cloth to brush off those nasty dust particles.  

Painting

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I’m using Tamiya’s synthetic lacquer paints because they are great for preserving detail due to their thin application. They’re typically used for Gunpla modeling, which is a very detail oriented craft. They also come in some great colors, including lots of metallic varieties. The GBA shells and buttons are made out of ABS, which will play very nice with synthetic lacquer. (Tamiya’s Polycarbonate paint will react poorly with ABS, so avoid the PS line of paints if you’re looking to paint ABS.) The colors I’m using are TS-30 (Silver Leaf) and TS-12 (Orange). When it comes to painting these shells, there are three main variables to keep in mind: distance from the nozzle to the can, speed of the can moving relative to the part, and temperature/humidity of the can/environment. That’s a lot to wrap the mind around, so I’ll start with a helpful diagram from Tamiya’s very own guide to painting (a great read!).

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When the paint comes out of the can, it atomizes into millions of tiny droplets. Once they hit the surface, these droplets will try to cohere to one another, “puddling” on the surface and resulting in a sooth, glossy finish. However, if there is too much distance between the nozzle and the surface where the droplets are airborne, the solvent in them can evaporate, and by the time they hit the surface, they are unable to fully join their neighboring droplets. This results in a surface finish that is somewhere between “orange peel” and flat. Not pretty. The longer the distance between the nozzle and the surface, the more time the paint droplets have to “dry” while in the air, when they should be drying after they’ve hit the surface. On the other hand, if your nozzle is too close to the surface, or you move too slowly across the part, the paint will run. Blech! The moral of the story is to keep your paint’s viscosity low, and to observe how the droplets are falling onto the surface of your part, rather than looking at the color of the part itself or the color of the paint. Adjusting the distance and speed of your nozzle is a matter of gaining experience and staying vigilant while applying coats. The third variable is trickier to manipulate. One can control the viscosity of the paint by controlling the temperature of the can. And high humidity (> 60%) can prevent paint coats from curing correctly, so unless you can manipulate humidity, it’s best to paint on a dry rooftop, around noon. (Humidity is highest closer to the ground.)

Pro tip: Heat the cans in hot water 30 minutes before painting. This will lower the viscosity of the paint, allowing it to be applied in thinner coats. Caveat: The paint will come out of the can faster, making the spray harder to control, so you’ll need to move across the part quicker. For more information on painting, read Tamiya’s guide. It’s a great read if you want to understand the granular intricacies of painting with any rattle can, not just Tamiya brand.

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I’m using a jig made out of straws, double stick tape, and a barbeque tray. Since I’ve heated our cans, the paint comes out quick, and I need to move quickly across the part to ensure our paint doesn’t run. In total, the paint is applied in about three coats. The first is very light– not even enough to cover the entire part. After waiting half an hour, another coat is applied to cover the whole part, and then after another half hour a final coat is applied.

Pro-tip: Do not to try and cover the whole part with one coat; with the Tamiya paints, this will most definitely cause a run to occur.

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After waiting a day or two to allow the paint to cure in a dust-free area, I apply Mr. Hobby Super Clear. Apart from having an awesome name, Mr. Hobby Super Clear will give the part an even surface finish, as well as protect and seal the paint.   

The Buttons

To make orange face buttons (A, B, D-pad buttons) , I will explore two options: resin casting new buttons, and painting over existing buttons.

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Casting New Face Buttons

In order to cast new face, I need to first create a two-part mold. I’ll be using Smooth-On’s Oomoo, a silicone-rubber that is often used to create replica molds. Oomoo is desirable for its quick demold time and low viscosity, which captures small details (like the lettering on the buttons) and allows bubbles to escape from the premold mixture without the need for a degasser. I lay out the buttons inside of a makeshift cavity. I use an iPhone box and double stick tape to keep the buttons in place. After applying Mann 200 mold release, I pour the thoroughly mixed Oomoo into the cavity.

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After that’s cured, I tear the mold out, and cut some dove tail knots into the edges. After another coat of mold release, and then I place it back in the cavity upside down. Then I mix up another batch of Oomoo and pour it in.

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The second pour of Oomoo will fill in those dovetails, which will act as locating features when I’m ready to cast our buttons. I separate the two molds, taking care not to tear the dovetails or any of the thin features responsible for the internal features in the buttons.

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Now it’s time to cast the buttons! I settled on EasyCast Castin’ Craft resin, along with their line of resin pigments combining yellow and red to make (you guessed it) orange.

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Mixing Castin’ Craft requires accurate measuring tools; if the ratio is off by even a tiny bit, the final cast will come out soft and slightly mushy– no good for buttons. Once the correct amount of pigment is mixed, Iadd the pigment and throw the mixture in the degasser to remove all the bubbles. In order to prevent bubbles from showing up in our cast, I use a syringe to shoot the resin into the cracks that will form the internal features of the button.

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I assemble two mold halves together using the dovetails. I also inject more resin than necessary, so that when putting the halves together the excess resin oozes out like a packed sandwich. After a few days of curing, the face buttons are ready to pull out the mold! Here they are:

Details are preserved spectacularly. Unfortunately, they’re not the right color. Even after several tries, I found it very difficult to get the correct shade of orange. In addition, the buttons are slightly translucent, even when using opaque pigments. Although casting resin buttons is a totally viable option for people looking to create interesting translucent custom face buttons, they’re not quite true to the original GBA prototype, so I decided to paint the buttons instead to get the exact color I want.

Dying and Casting Start and Select Buttons

These buttons are trickier than the others, because they are soft silicone buttons.

Others who have attempted to be replicate the Spaceworld 2000 GBA have failed to get the orange Start and Select buttons. There are two approaches to getting colored silicone parts: coloring existing buttons, or casting new buttons. I decided to first try coloring existing buttons. Thanks to a quick internet search on dying silicone, it turns out people have used hair dye to color silicone buttons dark colors in refurbished Game Boys. Perfect…. right?

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Long story short, the hair dye method was a complete disaster for a couple reasons. It only seems to work for dark colors (like black or navy); bright orange hair dyes made the silicone buttons turn out brown at best. Even worse, the dye makes the button smell like the trashcan of a hair salon. No good. So instead, I had to cast our own buttons, using dyes to get the color right. In order to do this, I did not use the same replication method I used for the face buttons. As it turns out, Oomoo doesn’t play well with whatever silicone the Start and Select buttons are made of. Times like these call for a 3D-printer. I designed a quick negative of the Start and Select buttons in Solidworks.

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Then I mixed up some Smooth-On Dragon Skin, along with some red and yellow silicone dyes to mix the right shade of orange.

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And voila! Orange silicone Start and Select buttons. But in all the 3-D printed molding / casting commotion, I overlooked two important details: the original grey silicone button contains a conductive pad at the bottom that allows the motherboard to know when the button has been pressed.

In addition, the durometer of the new casted orange button is slightly softer when compared to the original, so it doesn’t preserve the snap-through buckling design feature of the original buttons.

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A quick solution to both of these problems is to snip the cylinders off of the orange silicone button and the original (that’s slightly browned from the hair-dye disaster, and use Smooth-On Sil-poxy to create a franken button. It’s not a pretty solution, but it’ll definitely work. It’ll be our little secret.   

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What about L, R, and the Bumpers?

The L and R buttons and bumpers are tricky. Their geometry don’t allow for easy replication like the A and B buttons do. If I chose to go with casting the face buttons, color matching between the silicone, face buttons, and L/R buttons and bumper would be a terrific task. Luckily, since I’ve opted to paint the face buttons, the easiest way to have consistent colors across all of the buttons is to paint the L/R buttons and bumpers as well.

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Now that the mechanical parts are done, let’s move on to…  

The Electronics

After coming so far and inhaling so many paint fumes, it’s quite easy to lose sight of what the original plan for the Game Boy is. But don’t forget, the whole point of this exercise is to install the high-contrast back-lit Game Boy Advance SP LCD into an original Game Boy Advance form factor. Now I crack open our donor, the Game Boy Advance SP AGS-101 model. I’m mainly looking to remove the LCD, but opening up the GBAs presents an opportunity to take a quick look at the differences between the motherboards of the original and the SP.

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Once I remove the GBA SP’s precious LCD, I take special care not to get dust into the screen. Remember, the backlight is a foreign concept to the dark ages of the original GBA. Luckily, there is a market for pin adapters that allow the original GBA to talk to the GBA SP display. They’re on eBay for about 12 bucks a piece.

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There are two types of pin adapters, one for each type of model of the original GBA, which comes in 32-pin and 40-pin models. Depending on what model the GBA is, I’ll solder a lead from a transistor on the motherboard to the adapter in order to route power to the LED panel that lives behind the GBA SP’s LCD. My model is the 32-pin, which means I have some soldering to do.

I carefully solder the lead from the adapter to the upper left leg of DA-1. I route the wire through the caps to the left of the transistor to provide some strain relief to the wire.

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And finally, I’m ready to assemble! Placing it into the silver shell is easy once I’ve carved away the ribs to make room for the larger LCD. One last detail– I replaced the plastic screen with a more scratch-resistant glass lens, which will give the screen better clarity and a neat iridescent quality.   

Closing Thoughts

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Once I’ve finished placing all the components and tightening all the screws, installing the glass lens, and putting in batteries (and even giving it a fake serial number label), the process of bringing a new Game Boy Advance into the world is complete.

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Capturing the details of the Space World 2000 prototype GBA presented several intriguing challenges: painting detailed parts with Tamiya lacquer, matching color schemes between different fabrication methods, casting the orange silicone start and select buttons, creating silicone molds for resin- not to mention the time (and money) needed to screw up (a lot). Although all these obstacles added up to a lot of time experimenting and failing, I’m hoping the lessons learned will come in handy for future projects.

Another lesson learned from this arduous process is patience. Every project teaches it at one point, but the meticulous nature of a project like this reinforces this virtue by reminding us that it’s important not to rush when there is no deadline, whether it’s waiting for a paint coat to dry, or the right tool to come in the mail.

If I could go back and do this project again, I would use a more durable automotive grade 2-part clear coat like Spraymax 2K to protect the buttons and the chassis from wear. Although Mr. Hobby Super Clear looks good, it’s not durable enough to stand up to more than probably a few dozen hours of gaming. I’ve heard that Spraymax 2K is much more durable, and I’ll have to find an excuse to use it on a project in the future.

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Helpful Links, Sources

Rose Colored Gaming is a group that does retro handheld mods and their guides are super helpful. You can find one on painting and casting parts here, and one on installing the backlight here.

A helpful video on how to install the AGS-101 backlight from Faginrs500

A video on how to remove the GBA SP Screen from kindofalotofgaming

How to paint with Tamiya’s synthetic lacquers

A comprehensive guide to Tamiya synthetic lacquers, and samples of how they look on plastic spoons      

Mike Choi
The Making of the Miniature Daft Punk Helmet
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The Daft Punk Helmet was my first time using SolidCAM and a Haas Mini-Mill to make a complex 3D contoured object. To make sure the CAM checks out, I started by machining one half of the helmet out of wax.

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Time to prep the stock. Two big blocks of 6061 with a giant hole going through it. Should have tweaked the speed on the countersink. I think I was going to fast, and that’s why you see the chatter on at finish. At the end of the day it didn’t matter because that part was machined away in the final product. There are four 4-40 tapped holes in the stock to interface with a fixture plate in the Mini-Mill. I had to pay careful attention to the depths of these holes so that they wouldn’t penetrate through the rest material.

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And you can see the fixture plate and the first 20 minutes of machining here.

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And the completed half inside the Mini-Mill.

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And outside.

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Those facets are pretty intense. After about 80 hours of sanding (made possible by Netflix), and good ‘ol Mother’s Polish, the two halves are ready to be sent to Hillock for Anodizing.

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I printed a couple different versions of the face mask. The first was on a Dimension Elite to figure out the geometry, and then I ended up printing on an Objet30 for its for its higher resolution and smaller step height when compared to the Dimension print. This allowed me to sand out the steps with relative ease.

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Ultimately, the black part of the mask was sanded up to 800 grit, and then painted black and gloss varnished using Montana sprays. For the laser cut windows, I got a cheap sample of translucent acrylic swatches from a plastics retailer. This is a good way to get a lot of colors for cheap. If you only need small details, the swatches can go a long way and I still have my sample set from this project and use it once in a while when I need an odd translucent color.

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The LEDs on the inside are wired quick and dirty. Two 3V coincells held together using a paperclip and four 5 mm white LEDs in parallel.

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The switch is accessible via the giant hole at the bottom. The mask is held in using a single .25" Neodymium magnet. If I could do this project over again, I would include two magnets rather than one. I would also pay careful attention to keep the light from leaking between the two parts by using a step or something.

Aaand here’s a cheesy video of it rotating!